Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.
The covered cabin of the small boat to Split is full by the time I arrive. So I stand with six others on the back platform, holding onto the railing. I’m sure there is a boating term for this area, but I have dubbed it the Tardy Corral.
Yet, from here one can watch the Captain and his compatriots on the dock, unfastening the ropes that hold the boat in place, kicking away the plank everyone used for boarding. And as the boat floats away, slowly at first, the two men left on the shore in Trogir pay their regards to our journey by resting their hands on their hips and staring. No nod of the head, no wave of the arm, though one did smile broadly around his cigarette.
The water in Croatia is the sort in stories for children. Mermaids and talking fish seem likely. As we pick up speed, those in the Corral got the first drops of the hour-long misting ahead. Seawater splashes up at our shoes, but the day is warm and the wind created by our movement feels accurate to the occasion. A middle-aged woman with a garish selection of rings and bracelets tries to clean her sunglasses four times before her husband–pushing the sunglasses back up her nose–insists that she give up.
We are dropped at Split’s main boardwalk of cafes and palm trees. The boat makes round trips from Split to Trogir, trading passengers from the larger city who want a day of something quaint, with those in the village who want to see the city.
Spackled with sea salt and feeling like a mime as I wander the city, I grow determined not to be in the Corral for my return trip. So I arrive extremely early, but I am not the first. In the cabin, two parents with two children and two grandparents are already occupying the center bench. The mother perches on the end and turns away to read her book. The father and grandmother take turns riling up the smallest child, then passing him to his mother to be calmed. The mother soothes the child and passes him back. The father encourages the child to scale a pole at the middle of the boat, to steal his older brother’s hat, to eat some of grandpa’s ice cream. The mother keeps her body pointed away, even as her spine grows stiff with annoyance.
Next to me, a grey-haired Swiss man and his meek wife hold hands. I nod my hello. He smiles, “So you are now inside this time?”
“Pardon?” I wonder if I still had salt residue on my cheek, my jawline.
“We saw you coming here. How you look at everything, this is very interesting.” I have always had a hard time wiping my joy off my face, and in many cases it was a liability. Not today. We chat a bit longer, they are on a serious voyage for months that summer. But even this lazy day counted: “I won’t forget this trip. And. No. I won’t forget you.”
I am so pleased that years later I have remembered him too. I didn’t promise back, but I didn’t forget.
-Boat from Trogir to Split and back. Croatia.